For what doth it profit a nation,
To gain the world,
But lose its land?
Does the religious life require leisure,
or the idleness of the leisured class?
Certainly, those classes have always held work to be degrading.
It is easy to see why.
Modern labour, predominantly indoors and sedentary can educate one into disbelief.
The past two-hundred years have shown us how work in heavy industry
is wont to render refinements of the soul redundant.
A generation or two after any revolution of this sort
and the very term ‘religion’ elicits only a dull, uncomprehending stare.
But could there be a correlation between religious sentiment and the natural life?
Most traditional deities slot seamlessly into the seasonal round.
And work in this realm serves to remind one of the greater cycles that govern existence.
One of which, it may be argued, is… religion.
… “‘Greater’ is just as perplexing as ‘space’ and ‘colour’.”
“It contains the concept of consumption.”
“Yet, is not necessarily overjoyed at the idea.”
“Perhaps it is just issuing a friendly warning.”
“Whichever way we look at it, natural hierarchies involve predation.”
“Why, even space gets in on it.”
“Look at how the sky swallows a bird.”
“That is merely an illusion of distance.”
“‘Black’ is an abundant place-name element
and occurs both in the ‘high places’ and at all track points.
The New English Dictionary describes it as, ‘a word of complicated history.’
It seems to derive from ‘blake’ and ‘blac’
which in Anglo-Saxon times meant, ‘shining, pale, white’,
and whose root gives us both ‘bleach’ and ‘bleak’.
The Slavonic languages have ‘blag’ as an element
meaning, ‘blessed’ or ‘light-given’.
Most ‘Black’ places, then, are not so named for being colourless
but because they are sites of especial sacred reverence.”
Count Jack Black
The man who has plotted the course of science
will have discovered in its development
the key which unlocks the doors to knowledge and understanding.
Both portals have fictitious hinges and hypothetical handles.
By stepping beyond their frame our senses become subtle.
The eye reacts to ‘the new’ by immediately reproducing ‘the familiar’ as if in counter-point…
In this way can that which is ‘alien’ move secretly amongst us.
…The novel sound initially causes so much pain to the ear
that we even seek to model a foreign tongue
on our own meanings…
“Wie spate ist es?”
“What is the time?”
As if time were a mere matter of counting.
Yet, how many hours have come and gone
since the ‘beginning’ of time?
…To be involved in exceptional experiences, therefore,
is to become, in part, their inventor.
In this our art knows no bounds.
With what gusto the horizons of our world expand.
Our enthusiasm grasps at each new enigma like a child its toy.
Perhaps one day the most solemn problems of the past
will appear as mere playthings to us…
The plight of the poor.
Our treatment of animal species.
Man’s inhumanity to man.
Perhaps ‘Old Man’ will then look for new problems to amuse himself.
If we want a yardstick,
for how far we have travelled from our Gods…
We need only consider the once widespread custom
of sacrificing a first-born child…
It hardly seems credible from this vantage,
irrespective of its counter productivity in an era of high infant-mortality.
What can these religions have been thinking?
That God was greater than mankind?
… The hollow of Dragon Hill affords a stunning vista of the Manger and the Giant’s Stairs.
From this vantage the sheer scale of the site starts to impinge upon my consciousness.
I concur with Wen that the laity would have congregated in the bowl or chalice of the hill where we now stand, shaped as it is it forms a natural amphitheatre and the scoured grass beneath our feet which according to tradition is the spot where St. George ‘loosed the Dragon’s blood’ is clearly as anything a missing piece off the horse on the hill opposite.
I am minded of the myth of Isis and Osiris and the search of the Goddess for her brother’s dismembered body…
The other disconcerting thing, from our point of view, is that the figure is not wholly visible from this elevation.
One would need to be a lot higher up or further back to make out the entire shape.
It is though, nevertheless, a highly dramatic landscape.
We have crossed to the opposite hill now and stand contemplating the eye of the dragon…
Back in the low slung car I stare into the gloom.
A quiet has descended with the mist.
It is the silence that preludes any portentous event.
The car lurches and veers suddenly and we bounce up a dirt track and skid to a halt at the foot of Dragon Hill.
“You didn’t mean to come this way did you?”
“This way, that way…what does it matter?”
It is my turn to look mysterious as we set off up the hillock.
The chill snags my breath as we climb and the mist swirls and eddies, clinging to our legs and arms like star stuff.
I nearly lose my balance a number of times for no apparent reason, a sure sign if one were needed that we are approaching the numinous…